Senior Director of the Center for Healthy Aging, at the National Council on Aging, Kathleen Cameron, illustrates the many ways that hydration is paramount to staying healthy as we age
Staying hydrated is an essential and often overlooked part of maintaining good health for everyone. As we age, hydration is even more important. Adults 60 and older are at greater risk of dehydration for several reasons. Dehydration occurs when our body loses more fluids than the amount taken in, resulting in the body not having enough fluids to work properly. Dehydration can cause the body to overheat, unclear thinking, mood changes, constipation, and even kidney stones.
As we age, we have natural drops in thirst levels and changes in body composition that increases the risk of dehydration. Furthermore, older adults are also more likely to take medications, like diuretics, that cause fluid loss in the body.
If you find it difficult to get eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day – the amount recommended by many health experts – here are 10 great reasons to drink more.
Improved brain performance
Even mild dehydration – as little as 2% fluid loss – can affect memory, mood, concentration, and reaction time. Adding just a few glasses of water to your daily intake can have a positive effect on cognition, stabilise your emotions, and even combat feelings of anxiety. This is especially important for older adults who are at higher risk for both dehydration and impaired cognitive function.
Your body needs water to digest food properly. Without enough, you may experience irregular bowel movements, gas, bloating, heartburn, and other discomforts that can hurt your quality of life. Upping your fluid intake may help get things moving in the right direction again. It aids in breaking down soluble fibre from your diet to keep your digestion process on track.
Dehydration can slow down circulation and affect the flow of oxygen to your brain. A lack of fluids can also cause your heart to work harder to pump oxygen all throughout your body. All of that expended energy can make you feel tired, sluggish, and less focused. Simply by drinking more water, you’ll prevent dehydration and have more pep to get you through the day.
Since it provides a sense of fullness, water can help you feel satisfied in between meals—instead of heading to the snack cupboard. It can also help boost your metabolism. One study of women with excess weight found that drinking additional glasses of water before each meal resulted in substantial reductions in body weight, body mass index and body composition. According to another 2016 study, adults who upped their water intake by just 1% consumed fewer calories. They also reduced their overall intake of sugar, cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fat.
Decreased joint pain
Did you know the cartilage in our joints contain approximately 80% water? Staying hydrated helps your joints stay well-lubricated, which helps reduce friction by creating more of a “cushion” between the bones. Less friction means smoother-moving joints and fewer aches and pains in your knees, ankles, hips, and other joints.
Better temperature regulation
Research shows that when you’re dehydrated, your body stores more heat. This, in turn, lowers your ability to tolerate hot temperatures. Drinking plenty of water helps you produce sweat when you’re overheated during activity, which in turn cools your body down. This built-in cooling system is critical in preventing heat stroke and other potentially deadly heat-related conditions.
Kidney stone prevention
Kidney stones are clumps of mineral crystals that form in the urinary tract. If you’ve ever experienced one, you know how painful they can be. Consuming adequate amounts of water each day can help dilute the concentration of minerals in your urinary tract and makes stones less likely. Water also helps flush harmful bacteria from your bladder and can aid in preventing urinary tract infections.
Your blood is made up largely of water. When you don’t drink enough glasses of water, it becomes concentrated, which can cause an imbalance of vital minerals (electrolytes). These minerals, like potassium and sodium, are key to the proper functioning of your heart.
Sufficient water intake supports your body’s natural detoxification systems, which remove waste and harmful substances through urination, breathing, perspiration and bowel movements. Supporting your own powerful, built-in detox processes can help enhance your overall health.
Even a mild fluid loss can cause the brain to contract away from the skull, leading to headaches and migraines in some individuals. Being consistently well- hydrated may help keep head pain in check.
How Much Water Do You Need?
If you want to prevent the risk of dehydration, it’s as easy as incorporating more water and water-rich foods into your diet. Eight glasses a day is an easy rule to remember and a good general target.
Certain situations will require you to drink more water to maintain good hydration. These include physical activity and exercise, hot and/or humid weather, and occasions when you are vomiting or have diarrhoea. Every person’s hydration requirements are different, depending on factors like medical history, health conditions, and any medications being taken. Talk to your doctor to come up with a personalised hydration plan that meets your unique needs.